Friday, June 26, 2009

Introduction to Galatians

The epistle to the Galatians was written by the apostle Paul between 49-50 AD. He wrote this occasional letter to confirm the doctrine of justification by faith and battle against legalism, which was brought into the region of Galatia (central/eastern Asia Minor) by the Judaizers. They held that one must become a Jew in order to then become a Christian (preaching a false gospel (1:6-7) that required circumcision (6:12); and perhaps of equal importance, they attacked Paul personally (4:17), saying that he was a renegade in defiance of Jewish superiors (1:11-2:10), proven by his public argument with Peter (2:11-14), and that he originally taught circumcision (5:10) but changed his teaching only to gain more followers (1:10). But Paul fights against their claims to uphold his authority and more importantly the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which was the gospel he first preached in the region when he traveled through establishing churches on his first, second, and third missionary journeys (Acts 13:14,42,43,51; 14:6; 16:6; 18:23). One commentator noted that Paul’s efforts as manifested in Galatians shows that “faith itself is God’s free gift (1:3,6,15; 2:19,21; 6:18). Quite simply, this is the truth of the Gospel (2:5,14).”

I am indebted to the following resources for aiding my study of Galatians: The Reformation Study Bible Footnotes, John Calvin’s Commentaries, John Piper’s Sermon Series, Kim Riddlebarger’s Commentary, and Vincent Cheung’s Commentary

W.M. Ramsay writes: “The evangelization of the province began in Acts 13:14. The stages are: (1) the audience in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, Acts 13:42; (2) almost the whole city, Acts 13:44; (3) the whole [southern] region, i.e. a large district which was affected from the capital (as the whole of Asia was affected from Ephesus, Acts 19:10); (4) Iconium, another city of this [southern] region: in Acts 13:51 no boundary is mentioned; (5) a new region, Lycaonia (also in the south), with two cities and surrounding district (Acts 14:6); (6) return journey to organize the churches in (a) Lystra, (b) Iconium and Antioch; (7) progress across the region Pisidia, where no churches were founded (Pisidian Antioch is not in this region, which lies between Antioch and Pamphylia)… Again (in Acts 16:1-6) Paul revisited the two regions: (1) Derbe and Lystra, i.e. region Lycaonia Galatica [the south], (2) the Phrygian and Galatic region, i.e. the [more northern] region which was racially Phrygian and politically Galatic. Paul traversed both regions, making no new churches but only strengthening the existing disciples and churches. In Acts 18:23 he again revisited the two regions [both more in the north], and they are briefly enumerated: (1) the Galatic region (distinguished from Antioch); (2) Phrygia. On this occasion he specially appealed, not to churches as in Acts 16:6, but to disciples; it was a final visit and intended to reach personally every individual, before Paul went away to Rome and the West. On this occasion the contribution to the poor of Jerusalem was instituted, and the proceeds later were carried by Timothy and Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4; 24:17; 1 Corinthians 16:1); this was a device to bind the new churches to the original center of the faith.”

Given this historical background, there is some question regarding Paul’s intended audience. There is no doubt he writes to “the Galatians,” but which “Galatians” remains a topic of dispute among scholars. The Roman province of Galatia may be roughly described as the central region of the peninsula of Asia Minor, bounded on the north by Bithynia and Paphlagonia, on the south by Cappadocia, on the east by Pontus, and Lycaonia – near Colosse, – and on the west by Phrygia. But whether or not Paul wrote to the churches in this entire broad region is questioned by those who suggest that Paul wrote more specifically to the singular church of a particular [northern] people group within this broad region known by their descent as Galatians.

This people group was in their origin a part of the great Celtic migration that invaded Macedonia about 280 BC. They were invited by the king of Bithynia to cross over into Asia Minor to assist him in his wars. There they ultimately settled, and being strengthened by fresh accessions of the same clan from Europe, they overran Bithynia, and supported themselves by plundering neighboring countries. They were great warriors, and hired themselves out as mercenary soldiers, sometimes fighting on both sides in the great battles of the times. They were at length brought under the power of Rome in 189 BC, and Galatia became a Roman province in 25 BC. In the end, it appears from Paul’s references that he regarded the churches of Galatia as one group, converted together (Galatians 4:13), exposed to the same influences and changing together (Galatians 1:6,8; 3:1; 4:9), and naturally visited at one time by a traveler (Galatians 1:8; 4:14). It would be unlike Paul to address, as a church, a people group that lacked diversity – one that was distinctly Galatian in its membership – for such a thing, to him, would have been an oxymoron.

Ramsey continues, “[Paul] never thinks of churches of Phrygia [north] or of Lycaonia [south]; only of province Galatia (as of provinces Asia, Macedonia, Achaia). Paul did not include in one class all the churches of one journey: he went direct from Macedonia to Athens and Corinth, but classes the churches of Macedonia separate from those of Achaia. Troas and Laodicea and Colosse he classed with Asia (as Luke did Troas, Acts 20:4), Philippi with Macedonia, Corinth with Achaia. These classifications are true only of the Roman usage, not of early Greek usage. The custom of classifying according to provinces, universal in the fully formed church of the Christian age, was derived from the usage of the apostles. His churches then belonged to the four provinces, Asia, Galatia, Achaia, Macedonia. There were no other Pauline churches; all united in the gift of money which was carried to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4; 24:17)… All attempts to find in Paul’s letter to the Galatians any allusions that specially suit the character of the Gauls or Galatae have failed. The Gauls were an aristocracy in a land which they had conquered. They clung stubbornly to their own Celtic religion long after the time of Paul, even though they also acknowledged the power of the old goddess of the country.
They spoke their own Celtic tongue. They were proud, even boastful, and independent. They kept their native law under the Empire. The ‘Galatians’ to whom Paul wrote had changed very quickly to a new form of religion, not from fickleness, but from a certain proneness to a more oriental form of religion which exacted of them more sacrifice of a ritual type. They needed to be called to freedom; they were submissive rather than arrogant. They spoke Greek. They were accustomed to the Greco-Asiatic law: the law of adoption and inheritance which Paul mentions in his letter is not Roman, but Greco-Asiatic, which in these departments was similar, with some differences.”

So as we study Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we can consider him writing not merely to the northern singular church and distinct people group of Galatia, but to the entire region (both north and south). We find that the 6 chapters break down into seven segments. Chapter one represents the first portion. In the first half of chapter 1, Paul introduces himself, greets his audience, and gets right to the point that there is no gospel other than the one he preached when establishing the churches in this region. This gospel of salvation by grace through faith excluded legalism on one hand and antinomianism on the other. Then in the second half of chapter 1, Paul begins to tell his story as a testimony of his authority to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chapter two, which represents the second portion of our breakdown, has Paul continuing his story, telling even of a critical moment when he corrected Peter regarding legalistic behavior.

The first half of chapter three represents our third segment, and Paul begins to criticize and rebuke the Galatians for buying a false gospel, falling victim to the Judaizers legalistic teaching. He teaches them about God’s promise and asks them to consider whether the promise is given through the law or by faith. The second half of chapter three, combined with the first seven verses of chapter four, represents our fourth segment of this letter to study. Paul continues to instruct the Galatians on receiving God’s promise by faith and not by following the false gospel of the legalistic Judaizers and trying to earn justification by obedience to the law. Rather than bringing justification, Paul says the law reveals sin and drives us to Christ. He has to work through a number of objections and intellectual arguments, because the Judaizers had built their foundation on top of Paul’s in the Galatian churches. Paul has to carefully go back and get them thinking correctly, especially regarding the law of God.

The final three-fourths of chapter four represent our fifth segment of study. Paul reveals his heart-felt concern for the Galatians over this issue that has been stirred up. He teaches them that Abraham’s sons by Sarah and Hagar have a figurative meaning depicting God’s covenants, and urges them again to see by faith that they are free. In chapter five, our sixth portion of Galatians to study, Paul turns to a discussion of freedom in Christ and living by the Spirit. The seventh and final portion of our study is the sixth chapter of Galatians, in which Paul concludes the letter with an exhortation to good deeds, not because they are striving to obey the law, but because they are new creations in Christ.

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